According to the latest Civitas Poll a little over a fifth of North Carolinians want an economic system that is more socialist. Despite that number being down slightly from our February poll, it’s a powerful reminder that American ideals and values are changing. Socialists were laughed off as kook balls when I was a kid, or at least the rare Bernie Sanders looking plaid jacket professor types. The Wall Street Journal released their own survey recently that showed that young people view patriotism, religion, and having children as significantly less important than previous generations.
Our shared national ethic and worldview has largely disintegrated. At least during the Cold War, despite plenty of social and international problems, Americans tended to have a shared sense of vision for their lives and of the transcendent. Even terms like “The Silent Majority” noted the weakness of the dissenters from a unified vision. The vitality of America’s middle class has, at least from previous generations, been the bulwark against extremist ideologies and negative social decay.
On the political side, President Donald Trump appears poised to run on saving America from socialism as a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. Will it be enough? Politico has pointed out the 9th Congressional district race in North Carolina could be somewhat of a test case, particularly in the all important suburban regions:
The election is serving as a testing ground for Trump’s 2020 message and strategy. Bishop has worked to nationalize the race, labeling McCready a “socialist” and, more recently, pushing out immigration ads echoing Trump’s rhetoric against Latino immigrants, including a spot in which he criticizes the Mecklenburg County sheriff for not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officials.
Whatever his faults, Trump has sharp political instincts. And by and large, the Democratic presidential debates certainly seem to offer little pause for appearing too socialist and are more than willing to champion grand schemes for more central planning. However, that we are having serious discussions about socialism as a future possibility constantly reminds us of our deep internal divisions.
It’s not all bad news, given that support for socialism drops by a few more points when that worldview is explained in the poll. Anywhere near a fifth is still alarming to me, given the havoc and poverty left in the wake of socialism all over the globe. Trump likes to say that “America will never be a socialist country,” and I hope he’s right, not merely for myself but for my children and future generations. “Socialism is irreconcilable with freedom. This is the lesson that most of our modern philosophers and litterateurs have yet to learn,” declared the late economist and journalist Henry Hazlitt. That line was written some 65 years ago and obviously the scourge of socialism has now crept into large swaths of the American population, particularly the young. It’s no longer fringe.
The solutions are not easy ones to right the ship amongst younger generations. It takes a collective commitment to civic education, cultural renewal, a commitment to civil institutions over government, and bold people continuing to speak the truth about socialism. A clear solution put forward by so many constitutional conservatives is defanging so much of the power of the federal government in favor of the brand of federalism outlined so well in our 10th Amendment. It would at least alleviate some of our national divisions and place less emphasis on a kind of political absolutism or messianism infecting so much of our dialogue today. The purpose of American government is supposed to be geared towards preserving our natural rights over central planning and social engineering. Perhaps, this is what we need to relearn most of all.
Despite all of our problems and divisions, Americans have rejected extremist ideologies in favor of freedom throughout its history. Conversations again are desperately needed on the meaning of freedom and why we can truly have a great country instead of a once great country in decline. “A republic, if you can keep it,” warned Benjamin Franklin.